On Friday, Eastern District of Virginia Judge Henry E. Hudson assumed senior status after nearly 16 years of dedicated service on the district court, which enjoys the hard-earned reputation as the “Rocket Docket” for its swift disposition of civil lawsuits. Because the court needs all of the district’s judges to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to deliver justice, Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-Va.) should collaborate with President Trump to promptly fill Hudson’s vacancy.
This winter, Hudson informed Trump that he would become a senior judge on June 1. Most senior judges are responsible for a reduced caseload, typically 50 percent. Hudson said he intends to carry a full caseload indefinitely, which will help ensure the court remains the Rocket Docket. But Hudson’s assumption of senior status means that the president must nominate and the Senate confirm a new active judge for the Eastern District.
Hudson has decided thousands of cases, including high-profile matters. He resolved the federal government’s case against football star Michael Vick for engaging in dogfighting. He also decided one of the initial suits that challenged the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The judge presided over the trial of Irek Hamidullin, the “Russian Taliban,” who was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan and convicted in Richmond, a conviction that the Fourth Circuit recently affirmed. Moreover, Trump recently nominated Hudson to be a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
On April 26, Warner and Kaine announced that they were accepting applications to fill the opening until May 18. The senators requested that an independent lawyers committee evaluate the applications and interview candidates. Warner and Kaine stated they would then assess the input of the panel, bar associations and experts and recommend very qualified individuals to Trump. The senators should provide several suggestions with reasons for their choices to Trump, so the president will have flexibility to select the best candidate.
When Trump receives the recommendations, the White House should expeditiously assess them and suggest names to the president. The White House must assiduously consult the senators and attempt to galvanize consensus soon on the finest candidate, whom Trump needs to swiftly nominate. Once the nomination comes to the Senate, Warner and Kaine should introduce the nominee to their colleagues and promote a prompt, fair confirmation process. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the Judiciary Committee chair, must quickly initiate panel investigation and convene a hearing, discussion and vote. After committee approval, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) must schedule a floor debate and vote.
Thursday was Hudson’s last day as an active federal judge. However, the lifelong public servant intends to remain fully active as a senior judge. It would be appropriate to speedily fill his vacancy with an individual who is as dedicated to the law and justice as Hudson. Thus, Trump, Warner and Kaine must cooperate to rapidly nominate and confirm a worthy successor.
Carl Tobias is the Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond.